It’s the End of the Church as We Know It – and I Feel Fine

dansig

A 2nd Reformation Post

040610_cbrown_mp_his_wharram_gravestone
My fellow Theophiliacs have entered some fantastic posts on our second reformation of the Christian church. These writings should not be misconstrued as rebellious rants by prideful know it alls, but a desperate plea to grasp hold of the fantastic entity that we love, the church. I believe the church is the first and last great hope of the world. Posts written against the church establishment should be considered as loving critiques of what I know as my true family – an eternal family. As I write, I wonder how the greater audience of the faith would receive these posts. Are we family still, in mind as in spirit? I hope to provoke reaction through my writing, reaction toward a forward movement; that we might meet somewhere in the middle of what is and what (I believe) should be.

Gilligan’s Island vs. Lost


I have had the pleasure of singing the tune “the Ballad of Gilligan’s Isle” while working the past few days and found myself thinking upon the show’s curiously comical portrayal of catastrophic events. The story is comprised of ridiculous characters whom undergo unlucky events, leading them to live in seclusion on a luscious island in relative peace until they are rescued. Contrast this with the show Lost: a larger group of people undergoes comically unfortunate events and is massacred to near extinction with no hope of peaceful rescue.

Now, Gilligan’s Island is meant to be a comedy show, maintaining individuals who are thriving in their makeshift community through succession of leadership, sexual tension and charisma. As conflict arises, the perky crowd finds a way to survive their formidable odds while melodramatizing each of their character’s idiosyncratic niches. The show was famous when it came out in the late 60s, then became all the more popular as it was thrown in the netherworld of syndication. What I find so fascinating about the show is how unappealing it is to me. These characters undergo struggle but struggle that never confronts the character’s ego itself (ego in the fullest sense: of person, not pride). Thus, a relatively shallow but fun series of plotlines flow variably unnoticed as the lore of the Island goes on nearly the same as it began. Episodes act relatively separate from one another, not affecting each plotline as the next episode airs.

Lost is a world of conflict and chaos. Though I hate the show for its endless rollercoaster ride, I am completely captivated by the intensity of the concurrent episodes as they all build to a never-ending climax of nail biting conflict. Characters grow increasingly complex, being thrown apart from their stereotypes and either progress through complete change in intent and goal or regress back into their despairing stereotype as their personal conflict eats them alive. Episodes cannot be missed. One episode drastically affects the lore of the following. Characters constantly die, are reborn, appear as ghosts, or are discovered (yes on a desolate island).

A Sign of the Times
Though the plot of Gilligan’s Island is far more plausible than that of Lost, the characters and their conflict are far less realistic in their journey. In Lost, realistic characters have realistic reactions to unrealistic scientific and phenomenal occurrences. Amazing how pop-culture has changed! The happy-go-lucky attitude of the Brady’s, The Gilligan Island crew and the Partridge Family is not popular in my generation of Heroes, Lost and 24. Reality strikes as oddly important, even in unrealistic situations.

Here’s the point: The church attempts to thrive in a Bradyesque façade. A mentality of ‘passing the peace’ and pasting on a smile for skin-deep reflection is not connecting with incoming generations of people. So I have scripted an unrealistic scene to aggravate a realistic response:

-scene- preacher
(Pastor gets up)
Pastor Reverend Guy: “Good morning everybody. Before you take your seats please take a moment to tell the person to your right what went wrong with you this week, don’t hold back. And when you receive this unfortunate news, person on the left, make plans to assist the person on your right in attending to this conflict before the week ends. Oh, and if you don’t, please don’t come back.”
(congregation pulls out their phones)

-scene-

I believe this type of interaction gets down to the “nitty gritty” of what the church is about – people. The church is not about checkbooks, mission trips, the building fund (and the building itself) or the sermon. Church is the raw interactions of people. We share in the phenomenal story of a god-man and must begin to unfold in this rising storyline.

Institution vs. Community

odalen-on-fire-510
I have only been part of a few churches consistently through my life. In my experiences, most of the energy and upkeep of the church has been spent in the organizing of pastoral funds, building maintenance, decorations, entertainment and the upkeep of the political structure of the church/pastoral staff. A very small amount of time is spent in the actual ‘doing’ and ‘being’ of the community. I went to church and heard a sermon, I went to church and played piano (poorly), I went to church and sang songs. The number of times I suffered, rejoiced or actually communed with people was vastly outweighed by the time spent unrolling cords, planning lessons, listening to ‘grow your ministry seminars’ and the rest.

I would like to contrast this with my relationship with my fellow Theophiliacs. I love each of these men like a brother. I know, right now, what they are doing, what they have been doing, what we are suffering through together. I devote time and money, showing my love and admiration for each one of them in expressions of that love. In our meeting and corresponding we have been what true church is, a church I have rarely known. Moreover we have made it our point to be just that: not seeking some political esteem, not spending endless hours on entertainment, but together worshipping in our truest form of the body of Christ.

When I say ‘raw’ interactions, I am not attempting to construe each moment spent within a church community as a crying, jumping or slain-in-the-spirit occurrence. The point is, the bridal of pretense needs to be thrown away. To be in a community we must ‘be’, castigating image and superiority.

Red Rocks AmpitheatreThe Rockstar & The Fans
The church institution has lost sight of community. We have become so thoroughly dependent upon the ‘rockstar on stage’ we have become the audience. This attention off of the community and on to a single person seems to pull us even further off the path to being together. So I throw out a question to you, dear reader, as I have to my friends and family. Why do we need a pastor? When I write ‘pastor’ I mean the word defined in the modern American sense – a man paid a salary to work in a church writing sermons, counseling people and administrating the goings on of the church. The reason I ask the question is two fold: 1. I believe the community suffers in this setup 2. I believe the individual acting as pastor suffers in this setup. First a congregation is providing the finances for an individual to do what a counselor, a professor and a rockstar can all do better (and often for less money). Second, Pastors become burned out performing the jobs needing to be practiced by the community as a whole. Why does a ‘Pastor’ do all the pastoral work? The church should accomplish the work of the church. Pastors spend their 40 hours in a church building, around people who are ‘not’ swearing, drinking, fornicating, stealing, or dumping their horrible mess-of-a-life all over each other. An individual who does not relate with their social setting leads the community. Is it any wonder why ministers advertise a ‘relevant’ church? If the church were relevant, it wouldn’t need to be advertised. Reality is, people do swear, steal, fornicate, drink and dump their horrible lives all over each other – let us do it openly, the pretense of holiness is falsity.

Universal Soldier
The church is the salvation of the world. Our enormous monetary capacity should be a means of spreading the good news. We have a mortgage crisis. If the church were to take part in paying for the mortgages of the church, how would that affect the mortgage crisis? Would the church need to advertise to seek attendees? Would single mothers have to worry about paying for an education, for childcare, if the church paid it for them?

Months ago, we discussed the Assemblies of God and their current struggle in maintaining doctrinal distinctive and social construct in lieu of a younger generation that distanced themselves from these conflicts. I raise the question to us a the church, is the community we serve less valuable than the systems we put in place? Are we so infallible we will die on a superior hill? Humility and openness is a much more loving message than tolerance and superiority.

People of the Book vs. People of God


I have struggled with idolatry since my acceptance of Jesus as my Lord. The worst of my idols was not money, women or a muscular physique (no surprise there) but the bible. In my time as a Jesus-follower I have spent less time praying, worshipping and ‘being’ with my creator and Lord than I have attempting to excavate my bible. With all the polemics to be argued, predestination vs. free will, once saved always saved, initial physical evidence of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, exorcisms, homosexuality, feminism, et al. I continue to forget the whole point – our Lord.

I believe this all stems from a problematic symptom of logical positivism (which I will discuss in a later post) in philosophy and religion; all which have been the response of the western church to the enlightenment. We seek out bibles, squirming for answers to problems, when we need to go to our creator with our problems. Our bible has become our western god – perfect, faultless, without blame or error, never deceiving but giving us complete and absolute truth. The mechanics of this problem are for another time, but the reality of this problem has everything to do with our lack of faith in the redeemer-god and our all-consuming pride.

Faith
A person of god doesn’t need to know the answers or scour the bible to find their Lord. It is about time churches wrote on their marquees “A God-Believing Church”, or Doctrinal Statements begin with belief in the creator, rather than the evidentiary recitation of the book from which cookie cutter answers come from. Fides Quaerens Intellectum can only be begin when Fides Est Prima.

The act of being is pathetic, fragile and painful. This is the reality of our human existence. So let us strive to be people of god. Let our aim be communing with our creator as well as one another.

Reformation
Humanity struggles with its individual verses communal capacities. In this sense, the golden rule stands out as the qualitative mandate for relinquishing ourselves from our social inferiority. When a community attempts to act separate from its culture, it cannot be the church. A church must entrench itself deep within people, revealing the dirt and grime of humanity in our path of salvation.

Advertisements

21 Comments

  1. This is one of the best sythnthesis of culture and church sociology I have seen in a LONG time. As a pastor of 27 years who recently took up the challenge of working on a “church renewal” in an old New England community, I resonate with everything you wrote… and look forward to reading more. Many, many thanks.

    Reply

  2. Great post Dan. It seems that you intend to fill out a couple more posts, and that might answer some of my questions. I have few things to say, but I will wait for another post or so before I craft my response.

    Reply

  3. GW3! You never fail to impress. I literally thought of you when I wrote those words. I took an unfair step that I will admit is a bit of a Christological heresy, not that I am orthodox in that arena.

    I didn’t write what I meant in that statement, as it would have extended my post by half. Suffice it to mean, I believe the church acts as christ (on behalf of) in the relationship between world and salvation. It is the messiah – through us. I simply mean the statement to be way too armenian and overtly ecclesial.

    Let me know if this answers a bit of your question.

    Reply

    1. Now Dan, don’t be evasive…explain to George what you mean when you say “messiah;” especially with a lowercase “m” as you have done. You don’t mean Jesus, except if he is your own personal messiah, but really any ole’ “messiah” will do just fine.

      Reply

  4. This is why I didn’t want to get into it. I admittedly hold to a lower christology than what would make me … ‘orthodox’. I do believe in a system I will describe only briefly as “inclusive messianism”. I don’t mean to be too vague, but I dislike publishing my thoughts that are so thoroughly disagreed upon among the theophiliacs – or just Tony, as he will heartlessly mock me before he hears my unorthodox argument.

    If more is wished to be heard on this subject I will write on it.

    Reply

  5. I am ready to hear you out Dan when you make a cogent case. You could make it a private post. And as I recall, you made your case to the older, larger, Theophiliac gathering, and they all had issues with it.

    Reply

  6. I agree that the church is the Body of Christ, his agent in the world. However, in the New Testament–as I understand it–the church is always the subject of hope, not its object. I’m not sure about this “inclusive messianism” stuff, and I’m definitely not a “low” Christologist, but publish away.

    Reply

  7. I will do that, for you GW3. Let me just comment on your subject/object thought. I think of it like this:
    “The world saved through the church to Christ.”
    Subject = world
    Verb (direction) saved
    indirect object = the church
    direct object = christ

    Now this is backward when looked at eschatologically, but in a simplified ecclessial way, I mean the goal to be Christ (that is “knowing” – being interlocked).

    Though eschatologically speaking, it is through the christ we become the church. This is an “already/not yet” equation.

    Reply

  8. So much great stuff here Dan, it’s hard to pick a place to begin. I especially appreciate your thoughts on the irony of ‘relevance.’ If a Church must sell itself as relevant, isn’t it already out of touch?

    On the Christ or Church thing, an Apostolic Christian might say that our only means to reaching Christ is through Church history (be it through the Tradition of Scripture, a worship service in community, or the teachings for personal devotion that come from our heritage) but ultimately I don’t think that’s what you’re arguing here. Further, I think dwelling on this relatively minor distinction distracts from the larger implications of the post above.

    I wonder if a practical application of your ‘Church regaining community’ message is a committment to creating smaller churches. As the number of Christians in the western world decreases, the number of “mega-churches” increases. Unfortunately, too many pastors aren’t asking “why are we losing Christians” and are instead asking “why am I not leading one of those mega-churches.”

    Perhaps God’s next step for western Christians is destroying our towers of Babel churches, in order to spread us out into smaller, closer, more authentic communities.

    (Tony, don’t you dare go after me for eisegesis on that one.)

    Reply

  9. Daniel:

    I’m not not sure you’ve got the grammar quite right.

    You wrote, “The world saved through the church to Christ.”

    In English, this is an incomplete sentence. I could turn it into a complete sentence simply by adding “is” between “world” and “saved.” But that would be a passive formulation leaving the question, “saved by whom?” implicit. So let’s rephrase the statement by making “saved” active and by adding God as the actor. Here’s what we get:

    “God saved the world through the church to Christ.”

    Grammatically,

    God = subject of verb

    saved = verb

    the world = direct object

    through the church = prepositional phrase modifying “saved” and indicating means

    to Christ = prepositional phrase modifying “saved” and indicating ends

    From where I’m sitting, you’ve got the subject-object distinctions all wrong.

    And my reformulation of your original formulation raises interesting theological issues: (1) Certainly the church is a means of the world’s salvation. How can they hear if no one preaches to them, and all that. But there are means, and then there are means. Christ himself is a means to the world’s salvation, but on a more fundamental level than the church’s witness to him. Think of it as the difference between medicine and the instructions on the medicine bottle. Both are means to health, but in fundamentally different ways. The church tells you how to the medicine of salvation. Christ is the medicine itself.

    (2) Similarly, Christ is certainly an end of salvation. Every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. But even this end is penultimate: To the glory of God the Father is ultimate. What of the church as an end of salvation? It is antepenultimate. We are saved in the church to Christ for the glory of God.

    (3) Consequently, in some sense, Christ is both the means and end of salvation, and the church also is both a means and an end of salvation.

    So, to take another crack at your formulation: God saved the world through Christ (made known to it by the preaching and being of the church) so that it would be in Christ (which entails, among other things, an ecclesial form). Is that your understanding?

    George

    Reply

  10. Dan,

    I am gonna have to be the negative one here and say it. Theophiliacs is NOT church. The obvious reason is that a “Church” would be centered around Jesus Christ. Our views on Jesus are so radically different that there is no feasible way for me to say that we are in any sense standing in the historical tradition of Christianity.

    Second, we have not participated in the Eucharist together. Neither do we preach the Gospel. So we neither proclaim nor ingest the “Word of God.” We do not “worship in our truest form of the body of Christ.” as you say above.

    Our gatherings are many things. They are the fruit of loving relationships, and by our mutual support they are a localized “community.” So I would say we could call it “loving community,” but not “Church.”

    All this is not to say that I don’t agree with your general thesis above. I think that most of your post is spot on. Although, we have talked before on how I agree with you on a bloated and irresponsible pastorate which does not recognize the charims of the Spirit in the various members; I do not think that the “position” of Pastor is something that can or should be jettisoned.

    Tony

    Reply

  11. Tony,
    Since when does everyone have to agree on anything for a church to exist. I regularly attend a church on Sunday mornings that I am quite positive no one ascribes to my personal christology. To me, the fact that we all recognize Jesus as our personal mediator, in some form, for God is enough. As far as the eucharist, this is not universally practiced. There are hundreds of variations and theologies practiced in churches today. In fact there are some churches that do not practice this at all. I am not sure how you can argue that we do not proclaim the word of God, please elaborate. Also, you fail to express what you feel worship in its truest form is. I know that you often get hung up on “standing in the historical tradition of Chrstianity”, but it seems that few churches meet your criteria. I am sorry but I have to agree with Dan on this one 🙂

    Reply

  12. The eternal two vs two split in our group 🙂 We simply differ on what “church” is then. So tell you what…You keep going to church at Theophiliacs, and I’ll keep drinking beer and talking at Theophiliacs.

    Although the Eucharist is not universally practiced, that is no reason to conclude that it is not supposed to be. From our earliest sources, Christians centered around this act, so I would have to say that those who do not practice Communion are not practicing full Christian worship.

    By proclaiming the Word of God, I refer to the practice of proclaiming Jesus as the crucified and resurrected Lord.

    Of course “worship” in a broad sense encompasses so much, even the act of life itself. But by “Christian” worship I mean that which praises the God of the Old and New testaments through the liturgy, be it Evangelical or Catholic or whatever. The primary act of Christian worship is the Eucharist, and so here again we come back to that.

    Such a sad thing for me though, that I want “to stand in the historical tradition of Christianity.” I suppose I do not feel myself adequate to create Christianity in my own image. Jesus is not “my way” to God, rather God has become known in Jesus, a truth which I participate and trust in.

    When we start to use religious language as you do, the words fail to have any concrete referrant. What does “God” or even “god” mean? What does “mediator” mean? Why do we need to be “mediated?” How do we know that we need this “mediation?” Revelation? Whose revelation? Intuition? Whose intuition?

    Reply

  13. Eucharist has been practiced since early church formation, I agree. Though I think orthodoxy is a bit out of the context of my post. I was attempting to espouse an argument for authentic community centered around Jesus. The term I used “worship in the truest form” was a bit ambiguous in the way I used it: I intended this to mean love as practiced within community.

    I would challenge that ‘taking’ Eucharist is essential to being a christian community, whereas ‘practicing’ eucharist (mean this in the sense of the word itself) is essential.

    As far as dogma goes, I don’t believe a firm christology needs to be in place to be a church – I think as long as Jesus is the center, that is where it all begins. Otherwise a church couldn’t really have existed until the middle of the second century.

    Your second to last paragraph is a bit crude. We all worship in our own way, as it relates best with us. Taking a highbrow liturgy form of worship and claiming it as adequate might be fine for you (and me for that matter) but it doesn’t mean others do not our faith just as adequately or honestly. You have access to knowledge and forms of Christian practice most of the world will never have; must one know and do as you to not “create Christianity in (their) own image”?

    Seems horrendously narrow and Pharisaical.

    Reply

  14. Dan,

    I think you have demonstrated a pattern of not handling critique well on this site. First you go off on George and now you’re calling me narrow and Pharisaical. Interact with my thesis’ and don’t resort to name calling.

    My main point was not about orthodoxy. The point is that it was a comment on a certain small part of your post about us being true Church. I disagreed with that and I commented on it. Again, we simply differ on what “church” is. Using more traditional language to cloak radical pluralism does not make it more Christian. Or, if you think it does you can make an argument from scripture, tradition, reason and experience to convince me.

    I also think that your response is riddled with inaccurate history. It is obvious from Paul, John and Acts that “taking” Eucharist was the common practice rather than “practicing” Eucharist, not that they are mutually exclusive. They were “thankful” for what had been accomplished by Jesus, and celebrated and marked this by the continuance of the ritual meal that he had initiated.

    To say that the Church couldn’t have existed if it required a “firm christology” until the middle of the second century is just plain incorrect. Perhaps it’s time you picked up your bible again. The New Testament, 1 Clement, the Didache, heck even the presence of early gnosticism and docetism demonstrates how the divine attributes of Jesus had been picked up and elaborated upon.

    And you are incorrect in your last paragraph as well. First I was not saying everyone needs to follow a “highbrow” liturgy. My Episcopal church is not “high” in any sense. By liturgy I meant an organized gathering which reads scripture, sings songs, says prayers, takes the Eucharist. It need not be uniform to be this.

    Second you are wrong again to say that “I have access to knowledge and forms of Christian practice most of the world will never have” Of the close to two billion Christians in the world, 1.5 billion are Roman Catholics, and the next two largest fellowships are Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. So we have well over 75% of the worlds Christians practicing a formal to semi-formal liturgy. Add to that Lutherans, Prebyterians, and Methodists and that number increases all the more. Even where there are low church Protestants, people often have “access” to other faith traditions in the area and could in fact acquaint themselves with high liturgy.

    I think as one that knows me, and knows that I believe in a generous orthodoxy, and even question many of my own beliefs you should know that I am not “narrow.”

    Reply

  15. Wow guys,
    no need to get all bent out of shape. Tony let me preface by saying that I do not think you are narrow minded. However, I still have issue with two of your positions. In terms of the eucharist, you are correct in pointing out the early practice of taking eucharist. That said, there does seem to be fairly early disagreement on its meaning. It has also been taken in various forms within the church for quite a long time. Are you arguing that anyone who doesnt take communion in the form and fashion of the early church is removed from the community? Yes Dan’s form of practice seems a relatively new take, unless you go with Crossan on this. I don’t see, however, how that removes it from the Christian tradition as it is simply a reworking of the practice to fit today’s cultural reading of the text.

    Secondly, you say that your definition of liturgy is not uniform. Yet, you provide specific boundaries from which you consider to be acceptable. This seems uniform to me. You could argue that your position is less uniform than some, but providing criteria as you have seems to fall in the category of uniform liturgy on some level. What if a church lacks one of your prescribed traditions? Does this remove them from being categorized as a church within the Christian tradition? Furthermore, why stop with those restrictions? It seems that once you start puting qualifications on acceptable church practice there is no end. I believe it is up to each individual community to determine the liturgical practices that they will use. Again the question seems to be whether it is the actions or the motivations that make a church “Christian”.

    Reply

  16. Hey Jeremy,

    I think you are correct about there not being full agreement on the “meaning.” Though our earliest source, Paul, certainly seems to produce something remarkably close to how the Gospels portray Jesus initiating the ritual, as does the Didache. My point was not that its meaning be uniform, but its practice. In a paper I did at school I argue that it certainly seems to be more of a modified “Sader” than anything else, but I am open to later interpretation of Jesus being “present.” Indeed, if Luke’s Emaus Road tells us anything about early Christian its that it did center around scripture and eucharist!

    I’m reading through a Liturgical Theology book right now, so I’ll get back to you once I get done with it.

    Tony

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s